Now, having witnessed one game, what do we know about the Kings-Rangers and their Final for the Cup Lord Stanley donated to mark an amateur championship so many years ago?
That Sutter can adjust if he needs to, and he’s not afraid to throw a new guy into an existing two-man set. Reference my article on Game 1 for the details here.
That the Rangers do well when they do two things—play with speed, and play all five men as a unit. On Thursday morning at his media time, Hagelin said as much: “I think we did a great job of using our speed, getting pucks deep, also getting pucks at the net, which gave us some offensive time.” He also said, “You have to make sure you get behind them and hopefully win races.” Remember Justin Williams saying that his Kings team was not prepared for the speed of the Rangers’ wingers last night, and there’s an obvious correlation in views here.
That New York can play inconsistent hockey as well. The numbers from Game 1 look like this: They gave the puck away just three times in the first two periods (LA did it 10 times), but three more times in the third. Hagelin said, “In the third we had way too many turnovers. Didn’t get deep enough in their zone.”
But that they can make up for that with speed. Reference their two breakaways in period three and you have all you need to consider on this point. Except that they had only three shots in frame three altogether, and it’s hardly likely that a strategy of depending on those will win a team many hockey games.
That they recognize that they have to make some changes from what they did to start the series. Ryan McDonagh said on Thursday that he thought the Rangers were trying too hard to make plays when there was nothing there. “I would say we’re pressing, holding our sticks a little too much, too tightly, looking for stuff that wasn’t there.”
Why? Because, as I detailed in my story called Kings-Rangers Heads Up, pregame on Wednesday, they were nervous-seeming at media day. They’d had a lot of time to think about things, and not many of them have been to the big show before. Their nerves took over.
Except that they had a good start, so how does this add up? They suddenly looked around and realized where they were, and started to panic?
But that the Kings are not going to give an inch. The reason McDonagh and company didn’t see anything “there” is that LA doesn’t leave gaps. The only thing they weren’t super good at on Wednesday night was their play down low in the very opening minutes of the game. Maybe they had been convinced that the Rangers were or would be afraid of their size, but for whatever reason, they didn’t seem to be ready for New York to crash them and be as close to their net as they were. Once they realized that they needed a bigger push-out, they adjusted their defense to give them that, and the Rangers stopped swarming.
That the Kings need to stay on the Rangers physically. New York said they were ready. Vigneault last night said that he had prepared the team to pay a price, but a little bit of doubt crept into the player comments Thursday. Listen to McDonagh: “For the majority of the game, I felt we were matching them, too, physically. We had some big hits outselves. We understand that they are going to be physical on us and we are not going to shy away from it for sure. We’ve got to look for opportunities to be physical on them for our forecheck, our speed.” He then went on to say that it’s not a matter of a big hit, but rather “utilizing our legs . . . creating turnovers that way is part of being physical too.”
Only that’s not so, and while their speed might be a huge advantage, and it is and was in Game 1, now that the Kings have been awakened to their quickness, it’s not likely that they’ll try to match them skating stride for skating stride. That’s not going to work. They’ll hit and pound them, slow things down.
Sutter talked about this speed issue on Thursday morning. “We’ve talked lots about it, but you still have to engage in it.” But now they know.
That the Kings still have tons of offensive reserve left, and they’re likely to uncork it sooner rather than later. They have four of the top five scorers in the playoffs, and one more, Doughty, in the top ten. Only Doughty and Williams, and not the two guys at the top, Kopitar and Carter, nor the leading goal-getting, Gaborik, put one in the net. So there’s lots more potential production waiting to come off the LA sticks.
That the Kings will at least try not to count on comebacks. Though they did it again on Wednesday, down 2-0 early, Sutter said, “You can’t chase leads all the time. It’s the National Hockey League. . . . You don’t get any award for ‘resiliant.’ So we can play a lot better, and it’s way better when you’re not chasing the lead.”
His players said similar things. Kopitar commented that this “wasn’t the start that we wanted or needed. The guys just really showed their character again to battle through no matter what—slow legs, sloppy play, their [New York’s] good start.”
Carter commented that the Rangers were throwing pucks at the net from everywhere and that his Kings were “just kind of standing around watching them.”
Brown said, “Their best chances came off their speed.” And he said that the remedy was to get in their way and manage the puck better than the team did in Game 1. “I think that we can eliminate some of the threat of their speed. They’re still going to have pockets and space to do it throughout the game. But where we can limit them is through the neutral zone, forcing them to dump the puck in more.”
What he’s missing is that the Rangers also have a very solid forecheck, much more of a threat than anyone out West thought given both the size and the quickness of many of the LA defenders.
In the end, it’s a game of adjustments. Game 2 will not be Game 1 redux. It will see a different Rangers team, and a different Kings team, take to the ice. That doesn’t happen until Saturday at 4pm local time. In the meantime, there’s always controversy about what hat Kopitar is wearing.
It’s a thin news day when the big fuss on twitter is Anze Kopitar wearing a Blue Jays cap. Gotta talk about something, though, right?
Williams has not set personal highs in playoff production with 8-12-20 points.
The Kings’ two-goal comeback is the 14th multi-goal comeback in the NHL playoffs this year, a record.
Five times, Lunqvist has faced 40 or more shots in his playoff career. Game one was the second time that’s happened this year.